Covid-19 Pandemic

Questions (153)

Denis Naughten

Question:

153. Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Taoiseach the role of the recently appointed statisticians to his Department working on Covid-19 data; and the raw data that is being used. [38792/20]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Taoiseach)

My Department has been working across government to integrate data and insights relevant to management of the Covid-19 pandemic since it began.

The HPSC, HSE, and Department of Health, have been providing a great deal of data through the COVID-19 datahub.

In addition, economic and other data are very relevant to understanding the impacts of restrictions, where supports are needed, and whether those supports are effective.

As Governments across the world continue to learn about the virus and how best to manage the complex interplay between measures and the economic and social impacts, it is vital that we ensure multiple data points contribute to knowledge and the nuancing of our approach.

My Department, working with the HSE and their contractors EY, the CSO, and a number of other Departments, have been drawing together existing data outputs to maximise the insights that can be gained.

This builds on the existing strong work across Government Departments to provide a central and integrated insight centre and platform that better informs the cross-Government Covid-19 response.

The objective is to integrate data and insights across a variety of internal and external sources. The data shared with the team is aggregated and anonymised. The team does not process raw data.

Trade Agreements

Questions (154)

Patricia Ryan

Question:

154. Deputy Patricia Ryan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the status of Ireland's support for the Mercosur deal; and the detail of the recent developments in this regard. [37785/20]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Enterprise)

As the Deputy will be aware, in June 2019, the EU reached political agreement in their trade negotiations with the Mercosur region (Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, and Paraguay). The EU-Mercosur Agreement is the EU’s largest trade deal to date. The Agreement covers a population of over 770 million with trade in goods and services valued at €122 billion. It aims to reduce and, in some areas, eliminate trade tariffs between the EU and the Mercosur region.

The Agreement, once ratified, would see a significant reduction or elimination of tariffs and barriers to trade that would enhance trading and investment opportunities between Ireland and the rest of the EU, and the Mercosur region. It would make exports from Ireland more attractive and potentially increase the demand for Irish product. In that regard, Ireland exported approximately €0.5 billion worth of goods to the Mercosur region in 2019 and Irish goods exports to Mercosur have grown on average by 2% annually with Mercosur accounting for 0.3% of total Irish goods exports last year. It is anticipated that this Agreement would allow Irish exporters to expand faster and open opportunities across a wide range of sectors – in business services, chemicals, machinery, medical devices and processed food and dairy.

In January 2020, my Department, in conjunction with the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, commissioned independent consultancy firm, Implement Consulting, to undertake an Economic and Sustainability Impact Assessment (ESIA) of the EU-Mercosur Agreement following a competitive tender process. The ESIA will consist of two equally important and complementary components, namely a comprehensive analysis of the potential economic benefits as well as a robust sustainability impact assessment (including social, human rights and environmental impacts) that the trade Agreement could have in Ireland and the Mercosur countries. Wide-ranging stakeholder engagement by the Consultants is a key part of the Impact Assessment.

While the European Commission works to finalise the legal texts of the Agreement in a process known as "legal scrubbing", many Member State Parliaments, including our own, have debated the terms of the Agreement as announced in June 2019. A lot of the debate has concerned the sustainable development elements of the Agreement, and I and colleagues have indicated that enforceable guarantees which strengthen environmental protections, particularly with regard to the Amazon rainforest and climate action, are one of the priority considerations in assessing Ireland’s position on the Agreement.

In this regard, Commission Executive Vice President and Trade Commissioner, Valdis Dombrovskis has stated that the EU is engaging with the Mercosur countries to negotiate an additional text on climate and deforestation as there must be: “lasting solutions for the Amazon region” before the Agreement is proposed for ratification. Accordingly, any additional text on the issue of strengthening climate and deforestation provisions within the Agreement will be assessed, and along with the overall ESIA report, will assist our decision-making on the Agreement ahead of the European Commission presenting the Member States with the final text of the Agreement which we anticipate will be in Spring 2021. I have been clear that additional safeguards are needed for my support.

Covid-19 Pandemic Supports

Questions (155)

Darren O'Rourke

Question:

155. Deputy Darren O'Rourke asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the position regarding the SBCI Covid-19 working capital loan scheme; the total number of applications; the number of successful applications and the value of same; the number of unsuccessful applications and the value of same; the number of ineligible applications; and the breakdown of same by county and lending institution in tabular form. [38770/20]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Enterprise)

Since the onset of COVID-19, Government has worked to ensure that appropriate supports are in place for businesses as they seek to navigate the disruptions this has brought to their trading environments. The COVID-19 Working Capital Scheme makes funding available to eligible businesses that have been negatively impacted by the pandemic.

This scheme was developed in cooperation between the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. It is operated by the SBCI through participating finance providers. Loans under the scheme range from €25,000 to €1.5m for terms of up to three years and are offered at favourable terms compared to otherwise similar lending in the market. These loans are offered at a maximum interest rate of 4% and there is no requirement for security on loans of up to €500,000.

The scheme features a two-stage application process. Businesses must first apply to the SBCI to confirm their eligibility for the scheme. If successful, they are issued an eligibility reference number, which they can then use to apply for lending with a participating finance provider. Loans under the scheme are subject to the banks' own credit policies and procedures.

Some of the details requested have not been included as they may include commercially sensitive information or fall outside the scheme's reporting. The total number of applications for eligibility under the scheme to date (20 November) is 3,999, of which 3,562 have so far been deemed eligible. Of those, 930 have so far progressed to sanction at bank level, to a total value of €119.54m.

More granular data, including a per-county breakdown, is provided by the SBCI as part of its quarterly reports. The breakdown of eligibility application and loans sanctioned per county as of the most recent quarterly report (30 June) is shown in the table below.

County

Eligibility Applications Approved

Eligibility Applications Ineligible

Loans Sanctioned

Total Value of Loans Sanctioned

Carlow

26

0

5

€2,205,000

Cavan

32

2

4

€300,000

Clare

67

0

12

€1,892,000

Cork

382

1

100

€10,269,000

Donegal

102

0

19

€1,051,000

Dublin

1103

0

197

€25,691,000

Galway

145

0

24

€2,150,000

Kerry

94

0

26

€2,680,000

Kildare

120

1

18

€2,817,000

Kilkenny

38

1

5

€690,000

Laois

27

0

4

€585,000

Leitrim

19

0

3

€575,000

Limerick

91

1

21

€1,870,000

Longford

18

0

2

€325,000

Louth

91

2

13

€2,715,000

Mayo

67

1

12

€1,494,000

Meath

90

2

23

€3,020,000

Monaghan

36

0

2

€140,000

Offaly

26

0

6

€325,000

Roscommon

26

0

6

€360,000

Sligo

38

1

13

€965,000

Tipperary

62

0

19

€2,105,000

Waterford

49

0

8

€1,740,000

Westmeath

40

0

5

€425,000

Wexford

71

0

15

€2,802,000

Wicklow

80

3

18

€1,410,000

Total

2,840

15

600

€72,506,000

Industrial Disputes

Questions (156)

Patricia Ryan

Question:

156. Deputy Patricia Ryan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if he will meet worker representatives of a company (details supplied) to discuss ways of bringing their dispute to a successful conclusion; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37780/20]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Enterprise)

I extend my sympathies to the workers in Debenhams who have lost their jobs.

The Taoiseach and I, and other Government Ministers have met on a number of occasions with Debenhams employees and their union, Mandate. While the Government cannot interfere with the High Court-overseen liquidation process, Ministers have sought at all times to ensure that the concerns of workers are heard and that the State’s employment and training services are responding to the needs of workers.

It is disappointing that the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) facilitated talks did not succeed in agreeing a way forward. I would urge both sides to re-engage in a constructive manner with a view to finding a mutually acceptable resolution.

The Government is supportive of the best outcome that is possible for the workers, within the legal framework available. The State will guarantee statutory employment rights to the workers of Debenhams, including statutory redundancy.

Public Procurement Contracts

Questions (157)

Carol Nolan

Question:

157. Deputy Carol Nolan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the details of contracts of €25,000 or more than have been awarded by his Department or bodies under the aegis of his Department that were found to be non-compliant with procurement guidelines from 1 January 2019 to date; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37795/20]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Enterprise)

The Department, through a dedicated Procurement Co-ordination Unit with responsibility at Principal Officer level, ensures that there is an appropriate focus on procurement best practice. There are a range of formal procedures and control mechanisms in place to try to ensure compliance with all relevant national and EU procurement guidelines. The Department, where possible, will try to avail of various centralised procurement frameworks put in place by the Office of Government Procurement (OGP) as well as utilising the e-Tenders website and advertising in the EU Journal where applicable.

It is the case however, that each year a small number of contracts will be awarded without being able to conduct a competitive process. Reasons for this typically include instances involving sole suppliers, timing issues between the expiry of an existing contract and a new contract being available through the OGP or where a critical and urgent need for service provision arises, such as the purchase of laptops to enable staff to work from home during COVID-19 restrictions.

Under the Department of Finance Circular 40/2002 all Departments are required to provide a Report annually to the Comptroller & Auditor General and to the Department of Public Expenditure & Reform indicating continued expenditure on contracts valued above €25k excluding VAT, which have been awarded without holding a competitive process.

In 2019 my Department and its Offices awarded 4 contracts to 3 companies with a value of €25k or more without entering into a competitive tendering process. The overall amount of these awards was €615k inclusive of VAT. The companies awarded these contracts in 2019 were:

- Oracle EMEA, two contracts with a total value of €422k for software licences and maintenance. The original license purchases were by way of competitive tender and the maintenance contracts in question can only be provided by Oracle.

- Microsoft Ireland with a contract with a total value of €82k for software licences which are not provided by any other service provider.

- The Sword Group with a contract with a total value of €111k for IT licensing and systems maintenance support for the Intellectual Property Office of Ireland IT system. It relates to a proprietary software system developed by Sword and therefore cannot be maintained or developed by a third party. The original contract for the supply of the system which Sword won, was competitively tendered.

For 2020 to the end October, 2020 my Department and its Offices has awarded 7 contracts to 5 companies with a value of €25k or more without undertaking a competitive tendering process. The overall amount of these contracts is €982k inclusive of VAT. The companies awarded these contracts were:

- Evros Technology Group with two contracts and a total value of €131k for critical and urgent purchase of laptops to enable staff to work remotely during COVID-19 restrictions.

- Oracle EMEA with two contracts with a total value of €528k for software licences and maintenance support. As previously indicated the original license purchases were by way of competitive tender and the maintenance contracts in question can only be provided by Oracle.

- Arkphire with a contract extension totalling €50k. This Citrix remote access licencing contract was extended for one additional year due to the critical importance of remote access during COVID-19 restrictions.

- McCann Fitzgerald with a contract value of €133k for legal services in respect of the COVID-19 Credit Guarantee Scheme. The awarding of the contract without undertaking a competitive process was in compliance with the OGP information note on ‘ Covid-19 (Coronavirus) and Public Procurement’.

- The Sword Group with a contract value of €139k for IT licensing and systems maintenance support for the Intellectual Property Office of Ireland. As previously stated this is a proprietary software developed by Sword and therefore cannot be maintained or developed by a third party.

Legislative Process

Questions (158)

Carol Nolan

Question:

158. Deputy Carol Nolan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the details of all applications made by his Department to the Oireachtas Business Committee to waive pre-legislative scrutiny of primary and secondary legislation sponsored or initiated by his Department from 1 January 2017 to date; the outcomes of such applications; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37892/20]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Enterprise)

In October 2018, an application to waive pre-legislative scrutiny relating to the European Investment Fund Mandate Agreement Bill 2018 was granted by the Standing Business Committee. This Bill provided the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment and the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine with the necessary powers to enter into a Mandate agreement with the European Investment Fund for a 64% counter-guarantee as part of the Future Growth Loan Scheme, which is a significant part of the Government’s Brexit mitigation measures. This application was made given the need for the Bill to be enacted by the end of 2018 so that a longer term investment scheme could be put in place as soon as possible to support Brexit impacted businesses.

A similar application to waive pre-legislative scrutiny relating to an amendment to this Bill in May of 2020 was also granted by the Committee. The amendment was to allow for an increase in the limit of the aggregate liability in respect of contributions committed by the Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Employment and the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine. This application was made given the need for the Bill to be enacted immediately so as to allow for a €500 million expansion of the Future Growth Loan Scheme as a response to supporting businesses impacted by the outbreak of COVID-19 in Ireland.

On 29th June 2020, the Standing Business Committee agreed to a request to waive the requirement in relation to pre-legislative scrutiny on the general scheme/draft heads of the Credit Guarantee Scheme (Amendment) Bill 2020, as amendment to the legislation was urgently required to support businesses to mitigate the impact of COVID-19.

An application for a waiver of pre-legislative scrutiny on the Companies (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Covid-19) Act 2020 was granted by the Committee on 17th July 2020. This application was sought due to the fact that legislation was urgently required to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on the operation of business. The General Scheme had been thoroughly examined by the Company Law Review Group which is representative of company law stakeholders.

Departmental Staff

Questions (159)

Patrick Costello

Question:

159. Deputy Patrick Costello asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the grade at which the chief data protection officer in his Department is employed. [37912/20]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Enterprise)

A full-time Data Protection Officer (DPO) at the level of Assistant Principal Officer was appointed on 30 April 2018. My Management Board agreed the assignment of a full-time post at this level to strengthen the Department's preparation for the EU General Data Protection Regulation on 25 May 2018.

The DPO operates with independence in this important role and with the full authority of the Secretary General and Management Board.

Since the introduction of the GDPR and Data Protection Act 2018, at a practical level, the DPO's role has included:

- initial point of contact within the Department for 'data subjects' who have queries/concerns in relation to personal data;

- overseeing the administration of all data subject access rights, including Subjects Access Requests (SARs) for the Department and its 5 Offices;

- providing data protection training for staff on data protection obligations and provisions of the GDPR and data protection laws;

- drafting and implementing all necessary data protection policies, guidelines and other protocols for the Department and its 5 Offices;

- assisting individual business units across the Department and its 5 Offices in identifying and responding to the requirements of the GDPR and data protection laws;

- monitoring compliance with the requirements of the GDPR and data protection laws across the Department and its 5 Offices and reporting to the Management Board and Secretary General on this, as part of overall assurance on compliance and internal control;

- advising 'data controllers' (i.e. heads of the business units which process personal data) and employees who are processing personal data of their obligations under the GDPR and data protection laws;

- ensuring that the Department has in place appropriate guidelines for staff and information for customers on data protection matters;

- assisting business units in responding to data breaches, should they occur;

- providing advice to data controllers on data protection impact assessments (should they be necessary) and to monitor these;

- co-operating with the Office of the Data Protection Commissioner as required and acting as the contact point on issues related to the processing of personal data, including prior consultation.

Covid-19 Pandemic Supports

Questions (160)

Dara Calleary

Question:

160. Deputy Dara Calleary asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment to provide clarity on his comments in Dáil Eireann on 9 November 2020 (details supplied) in relation to businesses which are not eligible for supports under the Covid restrictions support scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37949/20]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Enterprise)

The pandemic has caused untold damage to lives and livelihoods, with many businesses severely impacted by the restrictions needed to ensure public health safety during the pandemic. Our response to COVID-19 will continue to assist those businesses affected.

Budget 2021 provides a significant additional package of tax and expenditure measures to build the resilience of the economy and to help vulnerable but viable businesses across all sectors.

These measures are in addition to the July Stimulus, which was a substantial financial package to stimulate our economy worth more than €5 billion, including €2 billion in loan guarantees for the new Credit Guarantee Scheme.

Budget 2021 is unprecedented in terms of its scale at almost €90 billion. Its purpose is to protect lives and livelihoods of everyone in the state.

A six-month reduction in VAT was introduced, going down from 23% to 21%, and from 13.5% to 9% which will benefit the hospitality, entertainment and hairdressing sectors, together with a range of additional public capital investment measures to support the domestic economy.

Also in Budget 2021, the Covid Restrictions Support Scheme was launched through Revenue, offering a targeted, timely and temporary sector-specific support to businesses forced to close or trade at significantly reduced levels due to COVID. As with all support schemes, in designing the CRSS and providing for it in legislation, it was necessary to set appropriate anchor points for eligibility.

We are investing in a range of working capital and longer term funding options for SMEs, with strong demand for medium and long term finance through Credit Guarantee Scheme and Future Growth Loan Schemes, at interest rates of below 4% p.a.

The level of assistance now being provided to businesses across all sectors is unprecedented and ahead of that available in other jurisdictions. In moving to the level 5 restrictions, we ensured that we had an appropriate mix of measures in place to support workers and businesses, so businesses can reopen and restore employment as we suppress the virus.

I share the Deputy’s concern about businesses that might not be eligible for the CRSS or other measures announced in the budget, such as the €50 million fund for live entertainment. I have asked my officials to conduct work along with officials from the Department of Finance and the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, regarding how many businesses might be in this position and to report back to me with proposals.

Trade Agreements

Questions (161)

Bríd Smith

Question:

161. Deputy Bríd Smith asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the status of the publication of a report commissioned on the economic and sustainability impact assessment for Ireland of the EU-Mercosur Trade Agreement; the timeline for same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37965/20]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Enterprise)

In January 2020, my Department, in conjunction with the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, commissioned independent consultancy firm, Implement Consulting, to undertake an Economic and Sustainability Impact Assessment (ESIA) of the EU-Mercosur Agreement following a competitive tender process.

The ESIA will consist of two equally important and complementary components, namely a comprehensive analysis of the potential economic benefits as well as a robust sustainability impact assessment (including social, human rights and environmental impacts) that the trade Agreement could have in Ireland and the Mercosur countries of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay. Wide-ranging stakeholder engagement has been undertaken by the Consultants as part of the Impact Assessment.

In line with commitments in the Programme for Government, the ESIA is designed to assist Government in formulating its position on future ratification of the Agreement and it is my intention, working in conjunction with the Minister for Agriculture Food and the Marine, that Government will have the ESIA available to us to assist our decision-making on the Agreement ahead of the European Commission presenting the Member States with the legally-proofed texts of the Agreement which we anticipate will be in Spring next year.

Work by the Consultants on the ESIA is well advanced with my Department informed that the bulk of the research has been completed.

It is my intention that the Report will be published once it has been received and considered by the Government, which is likely not to be in the first quarter of 2021.

Tribunals of Inquiry

Questions (162)

John McGuinness

Question:

162. Deputy John McGuinness asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the number of tribunals, inquiries or investigations being undertaken currently by his Department; the number that are in the process of being set up; the number in which the terms of reference are not complete or not agreed; the cost of all to date; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38038/20]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Enterprise)

No tribunals, inquiries or investigations are currently being undertaken by my Department, and none are in the process of being set up. No costs associated with setting up tribunals, inquiries or investigations have been incurred by my Department.

Company Registration

Questions (163)

Richard Boyd Barrett

Question:

163. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the responsibility the Company Registrations Office has to ensure the information it receives from a company is correct; and the responsibility it has when it is brought to its attention that the address given as the principal registered office does not exist. [38253/20]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Enterprise)

The onus rests with a company and its officers when completing a statutory submission to ensure that documents submitted to the Companies Registration Office (CRO) pursuant to the Companies Act 2014 are fully, accurately and properly completed. Section 898(1) of the 2014 Act, empowers the Registrar of Companies to serve a notice on a company rejecting non-complying documents that are required to be authorised or delivered to the Registrar under the Act that fail to comply with the relevant requirements of the Act. The company is provided with the opportunity to rectify and resubmit the document within 14 days.

Section 876(1) of the 2014 Act further provides that where a person in purported compliance with any provision of the Act, answers a question, provides an explanation, makes a statement or completes, signs, produces, lodges or delivers any return, report, certificate, balance sheet or other document that is false in a material particular, and he or she knows that it is false or is reckless, they are in breach of the Act and are guilty of a category 2 offence and for greater maximum penalties in certain cases.

A company is required to have a registered office in the State to which all communications and notices may be addressed pursuant to section 50(1) and section 50(6) of the Act makes a breach of this requirement by the company or an officer of the company a category 4 offence. A company must notify any change in the location of its registered office within 14 days by sending a completed Form B2 to the CRO.

Summary proceedings for an offence under section 876(1) and 50(6) of the 2014 Act may be brought and prosecuted by the Director of Public Prosecutions or the Director of Corporate Enforcement.

Covid-19 Pandemic Supports

Questions (164)

Jackie Cahill

Question:

164. Deputy Jackie Cahill asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if supports will be made available to landlords who have premises rented to businesses that are now closed due to Covid-19 restrictions and are no longer receiving rents from tenants; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38254/20]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Enterprise)

I understand this is a difficult time for many businesses, including commercial landlords, and that many companies have had to close their businesses or curtail their activities due to COVID-19 restrictions. I am aware that these closures can have secondary effects impacting landlords and I recognise that many landlords have debt repayment obligations as well as other ongoing costs.

The issue of commercial rents is primarily a contractual matter for the parties involved. However, the Government has urged landlords and tenants to talk to one another and come to some arrangement, as it is in everybody’s interest that terms are amicably agreed. Landlords should be willing to do what they can to help their tenants to continue to operate rather than facing the risk of a vacant premises and inability to obtain new tenants. Equally, tenants should pay what they can and speak with their landlord when difficulties arise.

On 1st October, I published the Code of Conduct between landlords and tenants for commercial rents, which was developed in consultation with relevant stakeholders based on examples from other jurisdictions. The aim of the voluntary Code is to facilitate discussions between landlords and tenants impacted by COVID-19.

However, this Code should not be seen in isolation. To date, over €24 billion had been made available in support measures for businesses, including a package of over €7 billion worth of measures as part of the July Jobs Stimulus, and a total budgetary package of over €17 billion announced in Budget 2021 to help those impacted by COVID-19 and related public health restrictions. This further demonstrates the Government’s commitment to supporting the country through this crisis.

The Covid Restrictions Support Scheme (CRSS) announced as part of Budget 2021 will allow the Government to provide targeted support for those sectors and businesses that have been significantly impacted by the public health restrictions. It will help businesses to meet ongoing costs such as commercial rents, utilities or insurance. It offers financial assistance to businesses that have either been forced to temporarily close their premises or only been able to trade at significantly reduced levels as a result of restrictions introduced in response to COVID-19.

The relief will operate as a cash payment equal to 10% of the average weekly value of the 2019 business’s turnover up to €20,000 and 5% thereafter, subject to a maximum weekly payment of €5,000, for the same number of weeks as the restricted period. The intention of the scheme is to recognise the challenges experienced in particular by sectors that have been most affected by restrictions since the onset of the pandemic in March.

The full list of supports to help businesses impacted by the COVID-19 crisis is available on my Department’s website.

Covid-19 Pandemic Supports

Questions (165)

Niall Collins

Question:

165. Deputy Niall Collins asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the assistance he can provide to a group (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38431/20]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Enterprise)

My Department and its agencies have been focused on coming up with solutions to help businesses overcome the difficulties caused by COVID-19.

In the wider context, the operation and reopening of Ireland's economy and society will be guided by the need to manage risk and repair the damage that COVID-19 has inflicted on society.

The Plan for Living with COVID-19 specifically recognises the impact of restrictions on weddings as a category of organised events. I am pleased that Fáilte Ireland has developed guidelines that can be used for the organisation of wedding functions. These are available on Fáilte Ireland’s COVID-19 Business Support Hub at: www.failteireland.ie.

Budget 2021 provides a significant package of tax and expenditure measures to build the resilience of the economy and to help vulnerable but viable businesses across all sectors. The measures in the Budget include the Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme, cash for businesses, low cost loans, commercial rates waivers and deferred tax liabilities.

We have also announced a six-month reduction in the VAT, going down from 23% to 21%, a reduction in the 13.5% VAT rate to 9% which will benefit the hospitality sector.

The New Covid Restrictions Support Scheme, operated by Revenue, offers a targeted, timely and temporary sector-specific support to businesses forced to close or trade at significantly reduced levels due to COVID. We are making changes to the Pandemic Unemployment Payment and the EWSS increasing the top rate to €350 for those who were earning in excess of €400 per week.

As announced in the July Stimulus, the Enterprise Support Grant was extended to assist eligible self-employed, including sole traders, who exit the PUP or jobseekers schemes to re-start their business. A self-employed person who closes their PUP should send their grant application to their local Intreo Centre to be processed. Further information is available at www.gov.ie.

Any person who is experiencing financial hardship may be eligible for other financial supports from the Department of Social Protection. Information on the supports available are at www.gov.ie.

We are providing more and cheaper loan finance through MicroFinance Ireland, SBCI and the new €2bn Credit Guarantee Scheme. I announced the reopening of MFI lending on 31st August and I launched the €2bn Credit Guarantee Scheme on 7th September.

These measures are supplementary to the wide range of existing loan and voucher schemes available to assist businesses affected by COVID-19 provided through the July Jobs Stimulus and other Government initiatives. My colleague, Minister Catherine Martin T.D., Minister for Media, Tourism, Arts, Culture, Sport and the Gaeltacht, may be able to provide more specific details on a roadmap to recovery for the events and hospitality industry, for which she has lead responsibility.

I am aware that there are certain businesses which might not be eligible for the CRSS or other measures announced in the budget, such as the €50 million fund for live entertainment. I have asked my officials to conduct work along with officials from the Department of Finance and the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, regarding how many businesses might be in this position and to report back to me with proposals.